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6 Misconceptions Educators Have About Children with High-Functioning Autism and How You Can Respond

misconceptionsDealing with the public school system and educators can be challenging. Knowing how to advocate for your child with high-functioning autism can be difficult at best especially because much of the child’s disabilities may be “hidden”. These hidden disabilities, the ones that are not readily seen by adults can be acutely realized by the child’s peers, and are apparent to the child’s parents. Educators who do not understand the nature of autism often offer objections to requests by parents for the child to receive additional or specialized help. These are the most commonly reported “objections” that parents receive.

Your child was fine when talking to me

This response is not only heard from educators but also from doctors and psychologists unfamiliar with autism spectrum disorders. Autism experts agree that these children tend to be very comfortable around adults. In fact a child with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome tends to be in their ideal situation when talking with adults—especially one-on-one. But, have they observed the child with their peers, and in multiple social situations?

He/She can do the work, they are just lazy

The idea that the child can do the work, but just doesn’t want to, or is being lazy is a very common misconception. These children tend to be able to do the work some of the time, which is what the educator uses as “evidence” to support their idea that the child just does not “want” to do it. However, the inability to consistently perform is typical of the disorder. This is not “willful.” Children with this disorder have gaps in abilities, and get easily overwhelmed by demands. A stressful or overwhelming day can hinder the child’s ability to perform.

Your child is not being picked on

He/she may falsely believe that they are being picked on, and that the children in class may actually like them. But misunderstanding social cues is typical of the disorder. Even if they are “misinterpreting” cues does not mean that the child is not in distress. Additionally, teasing or bullying may be occurring when the educator is not looking.

Your child needs to participate in mainstream lunch and recess

Asserting that the child needs to learn to “cope” by tossing them into overwhelming situations can cause more trauma. For many children on the autism spectrum, the social and sensory demands of a typical public school lunchroom can be overwhelming. Once the child is overwhelmed, he/she will not be coping or learning.

Your child is doing “fine” in class

Children cannot be categorized as doing “fine” solely on receiving passing grades. What is their definition of fine? Children with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome tend to be of average to above-average intelligence and often have the ability to pass tests and/or read above their grade levels. This does not mean they do not have unique challenges, or are not overwhelmed and distressed.

Your child is happy in school

Your child may appear to be happy in school but when he/she gets home, they are out of control. Children of this type can frequently hold it together during the day just long enough to get in the front door. A child who has exhausted all their reserves during the day trying to avoid punishment or embarrassment will often “fall apart” when they get home. Meltdowns, tears, aggression, and difficulty completely homework assignments are just a few of the results.

Parents, teachers, and doctors unfamiliar with autism may have many of these same misconceptions. Helping your child get the assistance they need to succeed can be challenging, but if you are armed with answers yourself you can advocate more effectively for them.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. I hate it when people say this to my children especially in a harsh tone of voice .

  2. Cindy Luich-Collins

    I have had it with the entire education system where I live !! My son was diagnosed with autism, severe sensory issues, OCD, terrets, and ADHD !! School is extremely stressful for him. They would not let him be in the sensory Autism class this year. They say he was to old. Then I find out that there was a boy older than him in it and he had asperbers. Every day the school called for me to pick my so. Up because now he was getting violent . he was in a special Ed class , but for behavioral ODD kids. They accused me of not giving my son his meds, but meds are not gonna help when they are putting my son in severe sensory overload !! Normally my son would run away or hide in small dark places to self sooth himself. But they wouldn’t let him get away or even try to take him to the sensory room. And the principal would tell me to double up on his meds, I don’t think so !! They are clueless, and treating him like he was ODD with behavioral issues and that he just wants his way !! I took every ounce of strength I had not to show that principal what a Mommy of an Autism kid could do !! You think he was out of control , try me !! Instead of taking my suggestions on ways to Cal! Him , they continued to do it their way. Finally, they called to pick him up and he was bleeding bad enough for it to be dripping on the floor from both arms. They said they had to restrain him he he keep hitting there rings. Why the hell didn’t you take the! Off then. He has 4-5 deep gauges on each arm and was completely manic and ticking badly from the stress. Also , my son is 7 , but very small, he’s 43 lbs and still wears a 5T !! I took him to his Autism specialist and she it is like torture for him, almost boardering on child abuse. He has been in school for 3 years and can only read and write his first name and the alphabet. That’s it . I removed him from! School about a month ago, I already have him reading 50 words and spelling about 20 !! Also he has been doing much better. Calmer and happier . and they want me to send him back to school next year!! Hell no !! They are lucky I haven’t slapped a law suit against them for not providing my child’ with what he needs. Which I a! Still considering. All I really want to do is so that principal what a real fit is, give her a taste of the torture , stress and fear that they inflicted on my boy. I am convenienced they could care less about my child, they would call me to get him every day , but tell me not to unenrolle him. They get lots of extra funds because my child’ is special needs, and if hes homeschooled , they don’t. Well they sure as hell weren’t spending it on him . I am beyond livid. I feel horrible and discusted and extremely guilty for letting my child endore what amounts to torture . they are supposed to treat him as an Autistic child with sensory processing disorder instead, they ignored his official diagnosis ,from one of the best children Autism center, and treating him as a stubborn child with ODD . you cannot treat an Autism child like an ODD child. I don think I will ever trust them with my child ever again.

  3. This look like my son’s teacher.

    • I often have an argument now when educators are looking to take services and accommodations away…what is it that people do not understand? The child is doing well BECAUSE of the accommodations, and supports, which indicates we are doing some right, NOT that we need to remove them! Drives me nuts.

  4. I just read this and that was pretty much a summary of my school experience

  5. I have two children with autism. The more you can include them if even on a very limited basis the better.

  6. Pingback: 6 Misconceptions Educators Have About Children with High-Functioning Autism and How You Can Respond. | Appalachian aspie part two.

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